Octopus’s Garden & my first time cooking octopus

When I went to cook octopus for the first time recently, a sound-bite of Octopus’s Garden started playing a loop in my mind. I was busy enough to mostly ignore it, and only today thought about it and realized it was from a Beatles Song. (It’s from their Abbey Road album, which I must’ve listened to hundreds of times when it was released in 1969, but it was a long time ago and I may have been ever-so-slightly, um, impaired.) The story behind the song is so poignant, and the lyrics are here. [noise alert].

20150407_124353The octopus was for my friend Carolyn Edelmann’s Grand Aïoli dinner, which is amply covered on her blog, NJ Wild Beauty. Octopus, often in a stew, is a traditional component of this dinner along the coast in the south of France. The whole point is to cook up a bunch of vegetables and seafood, which then serve as a vehicle for the sumptuous aïoli, the garlicky mayonnaise. As my contribution, I decided it was high time I learned to prepare octopus. I read up online and in a couple cookbooks, and here’s what I learned. It’s really easy to work with cleaned and frozen octopus, and, wanting to make this a not-so-intimidating venture, I promptly bought two packages of nice small cleaned and frozen octopus at McCaffrey’s. (You don’t really need a plural form of this word, and don’t even think about calling them “octopi.”)

I looked at all sorts of recipes, including some that stewed the octopus in tomato. That was especially tempting after Tre Piani chef/owner Jim Weaver coincidentally sent a recipe in his email newsletter that he picked up on a recent trip to Italy. But I thought that a simpler preparation would be a better match with the aioli. A version from Saveur with fennel sounded good, but I knew someone else was bringing fennel to the dinner, part of a wonderful spread of many vegetables we shared. Mark Bittman’s octopus with potato from The Best Recipes in the World sounded good too. There was a nice salad at SeriousEats.com, and a lovely-sounding version with sherry at Bon Appetit.20150606_114748

The possibilities were endless, and that’s not even counting the many versions that involve grilling, since grilled octopus is such a staple on ambitious restaurant menus these days.

2015-06-06 17.31.11But, in the end, at the last minute, I thought of using my slow-cooker, and that was a lifesaver. I’d had to start a course of antibiotics to prevent a possible case of Lyme disease just a few days earlier, and the effects were already being felt. I’d discovered a bulls eye rash on my arm and my doctor just put me right on the medication reminding me I’d had a serious case about 15 years ago and shouldn’t risk a recurrence. Darn! (Now, at the end of the course, I don’t know if I would’ve had the energy to do the cooking and attend the dinner at all, but it’ll be over soon.)

So I did more research and found a simple recipe for Pulpo a la Gallega, a Spanish version online. I loaded up my cooker the day before the dinner, adding a sliced lemon, a splash of white wine, a quartered onion, and extra-virgin olive oil. After about three hours on high, I added the potato and cooked it another couple of hours. The octopus was very tender. The octopus was served room temperature, so it was easy to transport and I didn’t have to reheat it.

20150607_142951Our dinner was glorious! Everyone’s contribution was delicious, and the company so convivial, we had what one might justifiably call a succès fou!



4 thoughts on “Octopus’s Garden & my first time cooking octopus

  1. O, Faith, this is such a joy to read, as it was a joy for everyone to discover your apotheosis of Octopus that night. (It was the secret ingredient, and we kept it covered until the last moment.) Every one of our confreres brought the perfect foods, so beautifully arranged as well as prepared. There’s a certain measure of courage in accepting an invitation to these strange to us but normal rituals of Provence. And even greater courage in being willing to prepare whatever. As we have read so many times, for the aioli, as well as the choucroute and the cassoulet, “the sum was greater than the whole of its parts.” And Fellowship glowed even more brightly than that beautiful golden sauce. Thank you for your double courage.

    Smiles c

  2. Great post!
    I’m glad it worked out for you. I go back and forth between making the octopus over the stove or in the slow cooker depending upon how quickly I need it to be done. Either way it works out pretty well when pre-frozen.
    I’m a huge Beatles fan myself!! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Pingback: June’s Best Bites | NJ SPICE

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